"Kabbaba" is the ancient Aramaic word for "to char" or "to burn", and medieval Persian soldiers, who used their swords as instruments to grill food over open fires in the field of battle, are credited with inventing "kabobs". It was only natural that this simple method of cooking food on a "sikh", a metal skewer, made its way into the kitchens of the royal houses, onto the tables of the common folk and into the streets, where vendors cooked and sold them for breakfast, lunch and dinner placed onto or inside some form of flatbread. Kabobs are a source of national pride and they are served in various ways everyday, everywhere for any and all occasions.
The kabab is the national dish of Iran & "kabab koobideh" is their signature kabob.
While kabobs in general are a source of national pride, for a cook, a great "koobideh" recipe is a matter of personal pride. Koobideh (koo-bi-day) refers to the way the meat (beef &/or lamb, or, chicken) is prepared. Originally it was placed on a flat stone and smashed with a mallet. Nowadays it's purchased ground or ground in a hand-crank meat grinder or in a food processor, then mixed with onion, parsley, egg and a few Persian spices. It's similar to an American meatloaf mixture. The mixture is pressed onto swordlike skewers, grilled for a few minutes and served with fire-roasted tomatoes and basmati saffron rice.
The ground meat is mixed with a few Persian spices:
Sumac (SOO-mac) is the fruit of a bush, native to the Middle East (most notably Iran) and the Mediterranean (most notably Southern Italy). It comes from the Arabic word "summaq", meaning "red", and, it produces brick red to dark purple berries, which are picked just before they ripen, sun-dried and ground into fine-to-coarse powder with a tangy, distinctly lemon flavor. It's an essential Arabic pantry spice being preferred to lemon for sourness, and, it was widely-used as a souring agent throughout Europe prior to the introduction of lemons by the Romans.* It's used in spice blends (it's the main ingredient in za' atar), dry rubs, marinades, dressings and dips, as well as a versatile condiment sprinkled over beef, lamb, chicken, fish, vegetables, rice and grains.
*The origin of the lemon is unknown. They are thought to have first grown in Northeast India, Northern Burma or China. They entered Europe in Southern Italy no later than the first century AD during the time of Ancient Rome. They were introduced to Persia and then into Iraq and Egypt around 700 AD and were used as an ornamental plant in early Islamic gardens.
Turmeric (TER-muh-rhk) is a rhizome of an herbaceous plant of the ginger family native to Southern Asia. When not used fresh (just like using fresh ginger), the rhizomes are boiled for 30-45 minutes, dried in hot ovens, then ground to a deep orange-yellow powder with an earthy, slightly bitter, slightly peppery flavor. It's used for both its color and flavor in Asian, Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani savory dishes and curries. It's an essential Arabic pantry spice too, and, many Persian dishes use turmeric as a starter ingredient -- almost all Iranian "khoresht" dishes (meaning "stews") are started by making a mixture of onions caramelized in oil and turmeric, with other ingredients to follow as the recipe progresses.
Everyone, everywhere loves to eat food cooked on a stick, and, every country and culture has their own traditional recipes and methods, but, for me, perhaps the most fascinating is the Persian-style ground-meat kabob. The recipe I am sharing, is authentic to the best of my ability. I've never traveled to Iran, but I do have an Iranian-American neighbor, and, thanks to Lily's mother, who is a fantastic Persian cook, I have confidence in the few Persian recipes I can post.
~ Step 1. In traditional recipes, the onion and garlic are grated on a box grater and then the juices are strained out through a cheesecloth. In my kitchen, the food processor and a few paper towels make very short work of this task.
1 medium yellow or sweet onion, peeled, coarsely chopped (8 ounces chopped onion)
6 large garlic cloves (1 ounce)
Transfer the vegetables to a paper-towel-lined plate, gather up the paper towels and by squeezing the package, allow them to absorb as much moisture as they can. Replace the paper towels and repeat this process two more times.
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef (90/10) or lamb, or, a combination
3/4 cup grated onion and garlic mixture
1/4 cup minced, fresh parsley
1 teaspoon each: sumac, turmeric, sea salt, cracked or coarsely-ground black pepper
2 large egg yolks
Note: This 1 hour of refrigeration is not just to allow the flavors to marry. It is easier to form the koobideh on the skewers if the mixture is cold.
~ Step 3. Line a large baking pan with parchment, and arrange the skewers across the top of the pan so they cannot touch the bottom. There's more. When the kabobs are placed on the grill, it helps if they do not touch the hot grill grates directly. My skewers came with two metal plates that keep the kabobs elevated just above the heat. Bricks are a fine substitution.
~ Step 4. Place a skewer through the center of each ball and squeeze the meat along the length of the skewer until there is a 1/4" thick layer of meat about 8" long on each one. Important: refrigerate the entire pan of kabob koobideh for about 30 minutes prior to grilling.
Tip from Mel: I remove the balls of meat one-at-a-time from the refrigerator, which keeps them cold.
Grill on slightly-elevated rack 3 minutes per side, turning once:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; paper towels; plastic wrap; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment; 6, 18" long, 1" wide metal skewers; heat-resistant grilling or welders gloves
Cook's Note: For an All-American regional "kabob of sorts" that uses ground pork but looks like chicken and has a unique name and an equally-unique story, check out my recipe for ~ City Chicken: Literally "The Other "White Meat" ~ in Categories 1, 2, 3, 10, 17 or 26.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)